Published in Jul-Aug 2017
It’s hard to imagine that most of the world’s largest corporations started out as entrepreneurial ventures – Apple, Ford, GM, Honda, HP, Microsoft, Toyota – to name a few. Some of the questions that arise when looking back to their origins revolve around vision, mission, belief in themselves and more. Another important question is: were they motivated by fame and fortune or by a feeling that they could change the world?
In the recent past, the number of start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures seems to have exploded with most taking place in the techspace. Stories of apps sold for, and IPOs raising billions of dollars, dominate the headlines (Facebook buys WhatsApp for $22 billion; Candy Crush sold for $5.9 billion), or of app-based businesses transforming the commercial landscape (Amazon, Uber, et al). Again, a question that comes to mind – were the founders thinking wealth creation or is it a natural outcome?
(As an aside to the impact of tech companies, according to an article in the June 20 edition of The New York Times, in 1990, the revenues of Detroit’s Big Three automakers totalled $250 billion and they employed 1.2 million people. Silicon Valley’s top three companies in 2014 had almost the same revenues before adjusting for inflation – $247 billion, but with a workforce of 137,000 employees.)
Is entrepreneurship a state of mind? Can it be cultivated? What is it that entrepreneurs do that makes them successful? Fortunately, there is Azhar Rizvi’s book Entrepreneuring Pakistan, 27 stories of struggle, failure and success, to answer many of these (and other) questions in the local context.
Is entrepreneurship a state of mind? Can it be cultivated? What is it that entrepreneurs do that makes them successful?
I have to admit I found the first story so inspiring that I started to relate it to anyone I met that day.
The dust jacket tells us that Rizvi is a consultant, trainer, mentor and coach who has worked with close to 450 fast-growing companies and over 10,000 students in the field of entrepreneurship. Rizvi has a wide association with the IT and social sectors, having worked with many ventures, bringing together investors, advisors and hopefuls. He holds an MBA from the University of Houston and an Entrepreneurship Development Programme from the MIT Center for Entrepreunership.
‘Impactful’ may be an appropriate word to describe Rizvi and the numerous projects he has been a part of. Many of these have involved working closely with the government, the Higher Education Commission, academia, as well as with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum of Pakistan (which helped connect angel investors with inventors), the Business Acceleration Programme and others. By creating ‘scale’, these efforts are accessible to entrepreneurs across Pakistan. The book benefits from Rizvi’s intimate involvement – not only with those featured, but also with the entire spectrum of the ecosystem that supports them.
There are four sections covering 27 stories. The Technopreneurs covers technology mavens who create new products; the Socialpreneurs are the catalysts for a better tomorrow; the Silverpreneurs, who leveraged experience and made impressive comebacks; and the Futurepreneurs, who are working to create the future.
As you can see, there is something for everyone, depending on your motivations at this point in time. The chapters end with helpful advice for anyone who may wish to tread the same path. Each of these stories could be developed into full-scale case studies for the benefit of students across the country. The book could have done with some tight editing, layout and design help to make the presentation better.
Some stories (in brief)
SoloInsight Inc., (Farhan Masood) is one of the fastest-growing biometric companies working on advanced technologies. From a revenue of $100,000 in 2012, the company was valued at $30 million last year.
GenITeam and Tapinator, (Khurram Samad) hit the jackpot building the Android game Gang Wars. Since then, it has become the fastest-growing game development company in Pakistan, valued at $30 million today.
Kualitatem, Virtual-Force, CoVenture (Jamil Goheer). Goheer caught the entrepreneurship bug fresh out of college. Several failed ventures later he founded an internationally-recognised quality assurance firm and later, an early-stage accelerator and an investment firm.
Bilytica (Usman Ahmed). Ahmed and his brothers from Sahiwal founded this business intelligence firm serving markets across the US, Europe, the Middle East and other regions. The valuation is estimated at $10 million.
Evamp & Saanga (Anwar Khan) started in 2000 as an IT services firm looking to modernise the local industry through technology. They have annual revenues of $3 million through prudent partnerships and customer management.
Symbios.pk (Muhammad Saad Jangda). Unemployment forced Jangda to start an e-commerce company in 2006, with a capital of $100. Today, it is one of the largest e-commerce portals in the country, selling 40,000 products in 10 different categories to more than three million clients.
Cricket Companion (Arsalan Khakwani). Marrying a love for sports with expertise in mobile app development propelled him into the world of digital sports. The software received one billion hits, 300 million downloads and a valuation of $50 million during the 2011 IPL season.
The Dream Foundation Trust (Humaira Bachal). Born into a low-income, conservative community, Bachal dared to dream of a better life for herself and other girls like her. She now runs a multi-storey school for 1,200 students, an industrial home and a microfinance facility for 500 women in Karachi.
doctHERs (Dr Asher Hasan, Dr Sara Khurram and Dr Iffat Zahra Agha). Connecting stay-at-home female doctors with female patients via tele-health clinics is a novel way to provide medical care to a disenfranchised population in low-income areas. In 18 months, they have set up eight facilities and treated over 100,000 patients.
Women’s Digital League (Maria Umar). Umar founded a social enterprise that mobilises home-based women to earn digital livelihoods for economic empowerment. No matter where the women live, WDL ensures they will be able to find work – with just a computer and an internet connection.
Rabtt (Imran Sarwar). A vacation time interaction with students from underprivileged schools inspired Sarwar to start a summer programme for children that would break down barriers of education, class and attitude through critical thinking, connecting with others and identity development. Through Rabtt programmes, doors open for children from all kinds of backgrounds as they undergo life-altering early experiences.
Apart from the advice given at the end of each chapter, there are a lot of lessons that the aspiring entrepreneur can learn. Here are a few:
Be clear about what you want to achieve. Write down your plan and the steps involved to make it happen. This clarity helps when you start to enlist the support of others.
Consult, connect, network. There is an entire ecosystem involved in getting your idea off the ground – from investors to customers, from designers to marketers – the list is large. You increase your chance of success by consulting widely.
Persevere. If at first you don’t succeed, find out what needs to be improved. How you deal with setbacks and rejection is a reflection of your own conviction and belief in your idea. Making a difference is not just about making millions, there are many areas of impact we could be involved in. It starts out with an idea and is backed by our resolve.
This book is as much a log of entrepreneurial achievements by Pakistanis as it is a source of inspiration to people aspiring to emulate them. As I mentioned earlier, if each chapter was fleshed out as a case study, readers would gain a better insight about the processes, trials, and tribulations behind each story.
by Azhar Rizvi
352 pp. Rs 1,200
The writer is a professor-of-practice at the IBA-Karachi and an executive coach.